No matter what you thought of Ted Kennedy as a man, a Senator, or a political figure, he is dead today. Gone is the most liberal lion of the last 47 years in the Senate. Gone is the last of Joe Kennedy’s nine children. Gone is the last of a family dynasty that has, depending on your perspective, affected and impacted America either for good or bad.
Ted Kennedy is the only Kennedy son who died of natural causes. The other brothers died tragically, cut down in the prime of life. If Ted had died in his prime, he would have only been remembered as a man committed to wine, women, and song. He would have been remembered for the death of a young woman in his car. If he had died at a young age, his death might have been, in many ways, the most tragic. He would have been a boy that never grew up and faced life like a man.
But he died at 77 years of age. In many ways, he turned his life around. He focused on his roles as a United States Senator. Even as I’ve watched the television today, I’ve seen praise from Republicans for a man whose message they didn’t always agree with. But apparently after working with him day after day, year after year, they had a high regard for Kennedy as a leader.
It is rare in Washington these days to find cooperation across the aisle. But Kennedy did it. He cooperated with Republicans who, from an ideological standpoint, would have been polar opposites. Apparently Kennedy knew when compromise was necessary, something today’s Senate might need to try again. There were moments when Kennedy was mean-spirited, like the incident regarding the nomination of Robert Bork. But from all appearances, he truly was man of privilege who cared deeply for those who were on the wrong side of the tracks.
I wasn’t a Kennedy fan. I am a student of history. This is the first time in my lifetime (someone in the Kennedy family has held a national office from 1947 until today) when a Kennedy wasn’t at the center of what was going on in America. Regardless of how I feel about Kennedy’s politics, I do remember in this moment that an era has passed. American history has turned a page. Everything “Kennedy” will be in past tense.
I also understand that a woman has lost her husband. Children have lost their father. Dozens of nieces and nephews have lost their uncle, who was really more than an uncle. He was the family Patriarch, the substitute dad for kids whose fathers were cut down early in life. One must feel for this family. They have lived through countless seasons of grief and loss. It seems they were destined to be a tragic family. In those moments, Ted Kennedy was given the mantle (one he would have never chosen) of speaking at the funerals, delivering the eulogies, and standing at the graves to pick up the pieces. Surely no man has ever had to speak at so many tragic family and national events as Ted Kennedy. Now who will speak for this family? Who will be the father figure they will need to lean on for counsel, support, and comfort? It is doubtful there will be any singular individual.
Today marks the dawning of a new day at the Kennedy compound. The days ahead will be filled with memories, laughter, and tears. When Ted Kennedy is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery alongside his two brothers, America will say goodbye to the last of a family that has marked our lives for over half a century.
Again, I am not a Kennedy fan, but I appreciate the moment. One day all of us will face death. The question is: How will we be remembered? History will judge how Ted Kennedy will be remembered in the annals of American politics. The liberal lion roars no more. But historians and biographers will write dozens of books over the next few years about what he did, didn’t do, and should have done. His legacy is, in many ways, in their hands.
One day, we will leave a legacy. What will it be? What will others say about us when we are no longer there to defend ourselves or redefine ourselves after some dumb decision? Our legacy is in our children and our priorities. Did we focus on the eternal? Did we seek to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment? Did we love like Jesus loved? Did we live the life He would have wanted us to live? Knowing that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment,” what are you and I going to do with the lives God has given us? Will we squander them in temporary pleasures and pursuits or will we give ourselves to that which will last beyond the grave.
Sharing the gospel, giving to your church, serving the Lord, loving your family as a godly person should—these things last beyond the grave. Legislation, jobs, careers—they can all change. Only that which is eternal is lasting. One day the obituary will read that you are dead. After all the facts are laid out one question will remain: What did you do with your life that mattered for the kingdom?